Distractions aplenty as incidents rise

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A new study from the University of Utah concludes that technology in cars is causing more – and not reducing – distracted driving.

Reported last week in USA Today, the study tested 30 vehicle infotainment systems and found that all are distracting to some degree. That’s not good, considering distracted driving is likely a big reason for an increase in fatal crashes in recent years. According to the USA Today report, the number of deadly crashes involving distracted driving increased more than 8 percent in 2015, the most recent year full statistics are available.

The Utah study was funded by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. It showed that systems in certain automobiles rate “very high” in terms of distraction.

Yet we aren’t too worried about touchscreens and other high-tech systems available in contemporary vehicles. A driver fidgeting with a radio in a 30-year-old car is just as apt to run down a pedestrian as someone adjusting the backseat heating system in a 2017 model. And we still see many – and we mean many – people texting while driving in the Grand Cities.

Another odd phenomenon is drivers with dogs on their laps. How is that not distracted driving?

So to blame technology on an increase in fatal car crashes seems to belie the fact that people still don’t realize distracted driving is akin to, or worse than, drunken driving.

And now the point: We cringe when driving in Grand Forks, where so many crosswalks provide a false sense of security for pedestrians. Travel down University Avenue during any weekday and see dozens of students who often don’t even hesitate or sneak a glance toward oncoming traffic before crossing the street. We see it at other schools, too.  

Crosswalks are for the community good and, generally speaking, they work. But we fear these places where driver and walker meet because we know distracted driving isn’t subsiding. Distracted walking is on the rise as well.

A report by the Governors Highway Safety Association, released in March, showed pedestrian traffic deaths nationwide rose 11 percent in the last year. A spokeswoman from the National Safety Council told National Public Radio it’s the result of “a perfect storm” – including distracted walking.

Just a single distracted driver could prove disastrous for an equally distracted pedestrian. Imagine the tragedy that could happen at a crosswalk at UND.

Distracted drivers are a nuisance. So it’s important to spread the word that crosswalks – a fine concept to provide safe passage across our city’s streets – are not guaranteed safe.

Drivers, slow down and pay attention.

And pedestrians, look both ways before venturing into these supposed safe zones. The driver of that car heading your way may be dialing a phone, adjusting the radio or scratching Buster’s ears.